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ceived choice. People resented having a choice taken away and reacted by buying the
traditional Coke as if it were manna from heaven, never to be seen again. Some people
even formed Old Coke clubs. The company got over 1,500 angry calls and letters every
day. Coca-Cola had to change its marketing plans, and “Classic Coke” still holds an
Social Psychology

honored place on the grocery shelves (Oskamp, 1991). Whether consumers liked New
Coke did not matter. Their emotional ties to old Coke did matter, as did their freedom
to buy it. New Coke just wasnʼt it for these folks.

Persuading the Masses through Propaganda
Propaganda: A De¬nition
We now turn our attention to the application of persuasion techniques on a mass scale.
History abounds with examples of persuasion techniques aimed at changing the atti-
tudes and behavior of entire populations. Such mass persuasion can take many forms.
Advertisers routinely craft persuasive messages we call advertisements to get you to buy
one product rather than another. Various public service persuasive messages attempt to
get us to change a wide range of behavior, including not driving drunk, practicing safe
sex, wearing seat belts, and avoiding illegal drugs.
Perhaps the most controversial application of mass persuasion techniques is the use
of propaganda. Propaganda is “a deliberate attempt to persuade people, by any avail-
able media, to think in a manner desired by the source” (Taylor, 2003, p. 7). Throughout
propaganda A deliberate
attempt to persuade people, human history there are many examples of the use of propaganda to shape the attitudes
by any available media, to and behaviors of masses of individuals. For example, propaganda was extensively used
think in a manner desired by during the American Revolution to both sell the colonistsʼ cause and demonize the British.
the source.
It was also used extensively in World War I by both the Germans and Allies. However,
perhaps the best example of the application of propaganda was by the Nazis during the
years leading up to and throughout World War II. Although it is true that both sides in
World War II used propaganda, the Nazis under the guidance of Josef Goebbels raised
propaganda to levels never before seen.
There are a few things that you should understand about propaganda before we con-
tinue with our discussion. First, it is common to characterize propaganda as a pack of
lies used by the enemy to manipulate attitudes and behavior. While it is true that propa-
ganda is often aimed at oneʼs enemy, it is also used extensively to shape the attitudes and
behavior of oneʼs own citizens. And, as noted earlier, it is also used by the “good guys.”
For example, during World War II the U.S. government engaged in propaganda aimed at
boosting the war effort at home. Hollywood ¬lms such as Wake Island (1942) portrayed
the Marines on the island holding out to the last man against the Japanese onslaught. In
fact, there was no such heroic last stand. Many of the Marines and civilians were cap-
tured and a good number of them were murdered by the Japanese military. The ¬lm was
intended to provide a much needed boost in morale on the home front, which it in fact did
provide. Second, propaganda is not always a “pack of lies.” Quite the contrary, modern
propaganda attempts to stay as close to the truth as possible (Taylor, 2003). This is not
to say that lies are never used; they are. However, a good propagandist knows that his or
her credibility is an important commodity. Caught in a lie, this credibility suffers. Finally,
propaganda is neither good nor bad. It is simply a means to an end (Taylor, 2003).

Characteristics of Propaganda
Ellul (1965) de¬nes two broad characteristics of propaganda. The internal characteristics
of propaganda refer to the characteristics of the target of the propaganda. According to
Ellul, a good propagandist must know the “psychological terrain” on which he or she is
operating. This means that the propagandist must know which attitudes and behaviors
can be easily manipulated. Typically, the propagandist stays away from deeply held
Chapter 6 Persuasion and Attitude Change 221

beliefs and concentrates on those that are more malleable. For example, Communist
propaganda in cold war Poland shied away from attacking the Catholic Church and the
Catholic religion. This is because Catholicism and the Catholic Church were extremely
important to the Polish people. Conversely, Nazi propaganda exploited already existing
anti-Semitism to shape the German populationʼs attitudes about Jews.
The external characteristics of propaganda refer to the characteristics of the pro-
paganda itself. One important point that Ellul makes is that in order for propaganda to
be effective, it must be organized and total. “Organized” means that the propaganda
is the product of a concerted effort to shape attitudes and behavior. It is not a hit-or-
miss proposition. The good propagandist has a clear plan in mind and uses propaganda
to execute that plan. As an example, consider the fact that the Nazis spent around a
million dollars a day (in 1939 dollars) on propaganda at the start of World War II in
1939. “Total” means that the masses must immerse the population in the propaganda.
This second characteristic is why propaganda works best in situations where the pro-
pagandist can control all of the outlets for propaganda. For example, Josef Goebbels
had total control over all of the media outlets of the day: newspapers, radio, and
¬lm. Additionally, Nazi propaganda permeated every aspect of life in Germany. The
stamps people put on their letters had Nazi images, childrenʼs books portrayed Jews
in stereotyped ways, museums were full of Nazi art, and pro-Nazi plays ¬lled the
theaters. Another external characteristic is the fact that propaganda is directed at the
individual in the context of the masses (Ellul, 1965). That is, the propagandist directs
propaganda at individuals but uses the masses to help break down individual thought.
An individual apart from the masses will offer too much resistance to propaganda
(Ellul, 1965). It is for this reason that Nazis held huge rallies (often at night so that
oneʼs critical thinking skills were not at their peak). Imagine how dif¬cult it would be
for you to counterargue Nazi ideas when you are part of a huge crowd pledging their
undying support for those ideas. In short, Nazi propaganda was aimed at making each
individual feel as though he or she was a part of something much larger.
A host of other characteristics are typically true of propaganda. These are listed
in Table 6.2.

The Aims of Propaganda
As noted, propaganda was extensively used during the American Revolution. For
example, Paul Revere made an engraving of the “Boston Massacre” that depicted the
event inaccurately (Go to http://www.mediaworkshop.org/csd18/csd18web_site/pat/
html/attucksphotolink.htm to see the engraving and a list of errors in the engraving). The
British were shown in a military picket line with their commander behind them giving

Table 6.2 Additional Characteristics of Propaganda

Takes advantage of emotion
Prevents critical analysis of issues
Propagandist has vested interest and some goal
Attempts to manipulate how we think and act
Used by just about every society at one time or another (not just the bad guys)
Social Psychology

the order to ¬re. The scene was shown in a wide open area between rows of buildings
in clear weather. The Colonists were portrayed as passive and peaceful, only to be ruth-
lessly mowed down by the evil British. In fact, the actual event was much different.
The Colonists were armed and were taunting the British. There was much confusion in
the con¬ned space. And, there is evidence that the Colonists ¬red the ¬rst shot. In fact,
a Colonial jury acquitted the British soldiers of any crime in the event. (The picture
at http://www.historywiz.com/bostonmassacre.htm is a more accurate portrayal of the
event.) Despite the inaccuracies, Revereʼs engraving was widely distributed throughout
the Colonies and was successful in its aim of arousing hatred for the British.
Samuel Adams worked for the Boston Globe at the time and organized a propaganda
team known as the Committee of Correspondence. The committee would gather the news
and report back to Adams, who would then send his version of the events out to other
newspapers (Jowett & OʼDonnell, 1986). Adams had a reputation for being something
of a rabble-rouser. However, he did have a clear vision of his cause (separation from
England) and how to achieve it. Adams developed ¬ve aims of propaganda (Jowett &
OʼDonnel, 1986). They are as valid today as they were then:

1. The aims of the cause must be justi¬ed.
2. The advantages of victory must be made clear and known.
3. The people need to be aroused to action by instilling hatred for the enemy.
4. Logical arguments of the enemy must be negated.
5. All issues must be stated in clear-cut, black-and-white terms.

Propaganda Techniques
The techniques used by propagandists may vary from case to case. However, the goal
is the same: Persuade the masses. Common propaganda techniques include the follow-
ing (Brown, 1967):
• Use of stereotypes: Propagandists often take advantage of our natural tendency
to stereotype people. Propaganda can eventually lead us to think of a group of
people in terms of the stereotype, rather than as individual human beings.
• Substitution of names: Propagandists often use derogatory names to refer to
disliked groups. Victims of propaganda become dehumanized, and it becomes
easier to persecute them.
• Selection of facts: Propagandists do not present a balanced view of events. They
select speci¬c facts that support their point of view.
• Downright lying: Falsehoods are used to persuade others.
• Repetition: The same message is repeated over and over. Repeated exposure
eventually leads to acceptance of the message.
• Assertion: Propagandists are not interested in debating. Instead, they assert their
point forcefully.
• Pinpointing an enemy: Propaganda is most effective if an enemy can be identi¬ed
who poses a threat to all. This directs aggression or blame away from the
propagandists and strengthens in-group feelings of unity and solidarity. This
technique plays on the “us versus them” mentality.
Chapter 6 Persuasion and Attitude Change 223

• Appeals to authority: Propagandists often make references to or identify their
leaders with higher sources of authority. This can mean a higher political authority
(e.g., approval from a revered leader) or to a higher power (e.g., God). In either
case, the propagandists leave the impression that their leader has the support and
blessing of the higher authority.
Fritz Hippler, the head of the Nazi ¬lm industry, captured the essence of successful
propaganda. He boiled down propaganda to two main techniques: simpli¬cation and rep-
etition. All messages used in propaganda should be stated in simple terms so that even
the least intelligent members of a society can understand the message. Once the message
is formulated, it is then repeated so it becomes familiar to the targets of propaganda.

Hitler™s Rise to Power
Looking back at the years between 1924 and 1945 when a darkness descended across
Europe, it is obvious to see the outcome of the rise of Nazism and Hitler to power in
Germany. However, how could a failed painter, army corporal, and later political prisoner
rise to the peak of power in Germany in just nine years? Part of the answer, of course,
is the fact that the Nazi Party had a well-organized paramilitary wing that effectively
intimidated or eliminated opposition parties such as the Communist Party. However,
such street muscle cannot fully explain how a large segment of the German people came
to accept and support Hitler and Nazism. To answer this question we need to look at
how the Nazis, through Josef Goebbels, used propaganda to rise to power, consolidate
power, and prepare the German people for war and for the extermination of the Jews.
In the years following the end of World War I, the German people and economy
were suffering greatly. War reparations were causing widespread economic depres-
sion. In¬‚ation ravaged the economy. Within this context Adolph Hitler would emerge
to become the most powerful man in Germany. But it didnʼt happen right away. On
September 9, 1923, Hitler and his followers attempted to overthrow the Bavarian govern-
ment in Munich. The so-called “Beer Hall Putsch” was a complete failure. The Bavarian
government refused to capitulate and no popular uprising occurred. Instead, Hitler and
his followers were imprisoned in Lansberg Prison. This was on April 1, 1924. At this
point the Nazi Party was in a shambles. Its leaders were in prison, the party newspaper
was shut down, and the party was declared illegal. During his prison stay, Hitler dic-
tated his manifesto Mein Kampf to Rudolph Hess.
On December 24, 1925, Hitler was released from prison. His release provided
one of the ¬rst propaganda opportunities for his propagandists. The exit from the
prison was quite ordinary. So, a photograph was taken at a different location showing
an imposing gate and a large black car awaiting the emergence of Hitler. Soon after
his release Mein Kampf was published. Still, the party was in dire straits. In fact, on
March 9, 1925, the government issued an order prohibiting Hitler from speaking in
public. This provided another early propaganda opportunity for the Nazis. A poster
was distributed showing Hitler with tape across his mouth. The caption read “He
alone among 2,000 million people is forbidden to speak.” It would take a while, but
the ban was ¬nally lifted in September of 1928. But the party was still not terribly
strong, though things were moving along. By 1929 Hitler was the head of the Nazi
party. Josef Goebbels gave the party a better image with his skillful application of
propaganda. Then on October 29, 1929, the German (and world economy in general)
crashed and entered the Great Depression. An already shaky German economy was
devastated. People who had secure jobs in the past found themselves unemployed and
starving. This gave Hitler and the Nazis their best opportunity to take power. The Nazi
message started to sound better and better to many Germans in misery. The party began
Social Psychology

to grow and on September 14, 1930, the Nazi Party won 107 seats in the Reichstag (the
German Parliament). In April 1932, Hitler lost a runoff election against the immensely
popular President Hindenburg, but he did garner 36% of the vote. Despite the over-
whelming victory by Hindenburg, political turmoil still existed. With the German gov-
ernment near to collapse and Hitler agitating for power, the 85-year-old Hindenburg
reluctantly appointed Hitler to be Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933. Just
a few short weeks later in March of 1933, Hitler consolidated his power and became
the absolute ruler of Germany, the Reichstag was burned, and Germany entered into
its darkest period of its history”a history that would include persecution and exter-
mination of Jews and other Eastern Europeans in death camps and the loss of nearly
80 million people in World War II.

The Power of Propaganda in Nazi Germany
Letʼs turn our attention to how Josef Goebbels used propaganda at various points in the
Nazi rise to power and selling of Nazi ideas to the German public and the world. We
shall organize our discussion around the techniques of propaganda reviewed earlier.
For each technique, we shall explore brie¬‚y how Goebbels used propaganda to shape
the attitudes and behaviors of the masses. (Examples of Nazi propaganda can be found
at http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/gpa.)
• Use of stereotypes: As noted earlier, propagandists take advantage of the tendency
to stereotype people. Propaganda from the Nazi era used this technique to
marginalize and demonize the Jews. Various anti-Semitic posters were widely
used. Typically these portrayed Jews as hook-nosed evil characters bent upon
controlling the German people and the world. For example, one such poster
showed a caricature of an evil Jew inciting people into war with the caption “The
Jew. The inciter of war, the prolonger of war.” Another poster, called “The String
Puller, showed a caricature of a Jew as a puppeteer pulling the strings of the
German people. German propaganda movies also were used to reinforce negative
stereotypes of the Jews and instill fear and loathing of them into the German
people. The most infamous of these ¬lms was Fritz Hipplerʼs The Eternal Jew.
In this ¬lm Jews were likened to rats and other vermin and Jewish rituals (e.g.,
Kosher slaughter of animals) were portrayed in hideous ways. Even childrenʼs
books were laced with anti-Semitic images and themes. The most famous of these
was the series of childrenʼs books called Der Giftpilz (The Poison Mushroom).
As in other propaganda materials, Jews were portrayed as crafty, evil, hook-nosed
characters, often preying on innocent Germans.
• Substitution of names: Nazi propaganda succeeded in characterizing Jews and
Eastern Europeans as subhuman. One cartoon that appeared in the Nazi news
paper Der Sturmer in February 1930 showed a huge black spider with a Star
of David on its torso sucking Germans that were hanging in its web dry, the
caption reading “Sucked Dry.” Eastern Europeans were often referred to as
“untermenchen” (subhuman) in posters that juxtaposed the perfect Aryan against
the mongrel-like Eastern European.
• Selection of facts: Even when the war was not going well, Goebbels painted a rosy
picture of what was happening by selectively releasing information. For example,
in a 1943 article Gobbels said:
Chapter 6 Persuasion and Attitude Change 225

Was there ever a nation that had so favorable a position after ¬ve years of war
as we do today? The front is unbroken. The homeland is morally and materially able
to withstand the bombing terror. A river of war material ¬‚ows from our factories. A
new weapon against the enemy air attacks is being prepared. Countless able hands
are working at it day and night. We have a hard test of patience before us, but the
reward will come one day. The German farmer is bringing in a good harvest.

What he failed to mention was that the German military industry was being
pounded almost around the clock by Allied air forces, the wonder weapons of which
he spoke were of little tactical value, and the German military was experiencing
defeats on all fronts.

• Downright lying: Apparently, Hitler wanted a pretext on which to invade Poland


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